SURGERY will be carried out at weekends and in the evenings by a Scottish health board in a bid to cut waiting times.
NHS Grampian approved plans to install new operating theatres at two Aberdeen hospitals yesterday (Tuesday) in an attempt to ensure all patients are treated within 12 weeks of seeing their GP.
Three new theatres at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and one at Woodend Hospital are due to be in operation by the end of the year.
Health bosses say they would not increase bed spaces at wards, choosing instead to carry out routine surgeries during the weekends or in the evenings.
A spokeswoman for NHS Grampian said plans were still at an early stage, but confirmed they were looking at ways to use the new theatre space more evenly over seven days.
Scotland Patients Association executive director Dr Jean Turner said: “It’s about time. This is a good start.”
The plans come as neighbouring health board NHS Highland is struggling to meet national targets for treating cancer patients.
NHS Highland has just over half the number of specially–trained medical physicists needed to treat patients with certain deadly cancers.
The board has just 3.6 posts filled against seven full time physicists needed.
In Scotland patients suspected of having cancer should be treated within 61 days of referral and patients with confirmed cancer should receive treatment within 31 days.
In NHS Scotland only one in three head and neck cancer patients and one in two urology cancer patients are receiving their treatment within the 31-day target time.
The boards overall position is 91.3% against a Scottish average of 98%.
Margaret Watt of Scottish Patients Association, said: “We should be trying to keep our cases within the bracket of 31 or 62 days.
“The more you disregard these waiting times the more you end up with longer lists of people waiting.
“Unless we can keep on top of these targets it means patients are going to be distressed and wondering what’s going to happen when.
“Any delay for any cases is not good but for cancer cases it is especially not good.
“Patients are going to be feeling stressed and anxious and that’s going to impact on their illness.
“Even if this delay is a couple of days it is not reasonable.”
Highlands and Islands MSP Mary Scanlon said: “It may only be days of delay at the moment but unless forward planning is properly tackled that could be weeks or longer in the future.
“It’s for the government to ensure adequate medical staff are educated and trained in Scotland to ensure there are not future shortages.”
NHS Highland chairman Garry Coutts said: “Although it is a very small number of patients in relation to cancer that are leading to these figures to be just below the national target level, it’s obviously a critical issue for us.
“Of those patients who do breach the target it is short-term.
“This is not large numbers of patients waiting excessively long periods. It is breached by days.
“Medical physicists are in short supply across the world. As a small centre we have fewer of them so when people retire or go off-sick that has a bigger impact.
“We will also look at the people we have working for us to make sure our systems are operating as efficiently as we can.”